Paradox Lost

Who thinks the paradox rules for “Mage The Awakening” really suck?

(No comments from the PC’s please. I wasn’t asking you.)

Take my word for it, they suck. My Co-GM and I can spend countless hours building an impressive array of antagonists to go up against my group of Mages (and his group of Werewolves) in preparation for the big fight at the end of a chapter, and what do my thoughtless, inconsiderate Mages go and do?

I’ll tell you what they do.

They create a gravity well the size the friggin’  building under my antagonists feet (while they, of course, stand just outside the door). This not only makes it impossible for my poor Promethean and friends to move at all (you try moving in 5 times normal gravity), but literally brings the house down on them, crushing them all to death.

We hates the Mages Precious!

My one joy in all of this is the fact that the gravity well spell is horrifically vulgar. I smile happily as I point this out and we begin to calculate the Paradox pool.

Sadly the antagonist, being a Promethean, is in an isolated and unpopulated area – so there are no sleeper witnesses. It’s the first vulgar spell of the scene, so that gives me the Mage’s Base Paradox Pool to work with. At Gnosis 4 this happens to be 2 dice. It isn’t much, but I laugh with evil glee as I select my 2 dice. Mua-haa-h…

“But wait! Not so fast Story Teller! I’m using my arcane tool, and this spell is a rote!  That’s -2 dice.”

And so this horrifically vulgar spell’s Paradox Pool is reduced to a chance die. A CHANCE DIE! What’s up with that? In the highly unlikely event that I manage to roll a success this pain in my butt will simply take 1 Resistant Bashing Damage and laugh it off. Bastard.

Clearly, something must be done… but what?

I have a few ideas:

  1. At the very least absorbing Paradox should be a difficult thing for the character to do. The character must succeed on a RESOLVE + COMPOSURE roll in order to mitigate the Paradox by taking Resistant Bashing Damage. (1 Health Point can be absorbed per success on the roll).
  2. You have absorbed a Paradox – this is some nasty shit. The damage is lethal. (Who’s laughing now?!)
  3. The Paradox is determined by the spell-casting roll. Any 1’s that are rolled as part of that roll contribute to Paradox. The more dice you have to cast the spell, the greater the chance of a Paradox.

Let’s make Paradox the nasty, scary, in your face deterrent it’s supposed to be! Who’s with me?!


Posted on May 6, 2011, in Mage Awakening, MtAw, RPG, White Wolf, WoD, World of Darkness, WtF and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Hmm… not a GM but I’ll chime in on this anyway. In the case of something so horrendously outside the realm of the natural world, I accept that there should be a greater chance of paradox. Using arcane tools seems silly in most instances but it allows mages to channel such vulgar things more safely. Rotes do the same but are not silly IMO because they are traditionally codified spells essentially. As the bashing damage from paradox is resistant to healing, it can add up and be a burden in a bad situation so the more vulgar spells you use, the worse off you are. That’ll keep some people from using them unless extremely necessary (e.g. my thyrsus). Rolling Comp Resolve for mitigation as you explained it actually sounds pretty good. Making the damage lethal is too soft unless it’s resistant as well… in which case it seems too high a penalty. But as GM you could always decide situations call for modifiers to the paradox roll when appropriate to make the likelihood of not rolling a chance die higher.

  2. OK, some PC’s are allowed to reply. lol

    I’ve always felt that the ‘arcane tool’ rules were a little weak myself. I get that they are trying to add flavor to the game, but weakening the deterrent power of Paradox isn’t the way to do it. Of course, maybe I’m biased.

    Absolutely paradox bashing should be resistant to magical healing. After all, it’s Supernal backlash that causes it. I’m not so sure there is such a thing as ‘too high a penalty’ – but once again, I may be biased. 😉

  3. As a PC (albeit a PC, though a werewolf PC and one saved by the mages in this case) I have to agree having an arcane tool mitigate Paradox is silly but I think it’s there to make arcane tools useful. That’s not necessarily a justification but probably the rationale behind it.

    I can see both sides of the damage argument (bumping it up to lethal but resistant lethal may be too much even though supernatural damage should be tough).

    By big issue with Paradox is that sometimes there’s no good rhyme or reason behind what’s vulgar versus what is covert. Actually, they can be completely inconsistent.

    For example, Honing Form, which only affect the mage himself, raising one of his attributes, is vulgar BUT Supreme Honing, which raises more than one of the mage’s physical attributes is covert. WTF?!?!

    And why the heck would the matter mage spell Shape Liquid be covert? The mage can use it to mold any liquid or mist into a particular shape, including to create a corridor through rain so the mage doesn’t get wet. Yeah, that’s not going to be noticed.

    And matter mages can use Repair Object to “mend even the most badly damaged objects” to “perfect functionality.” Yeah, that’s a covert spell. At the minimum I’d make it GM’s discretion depending upon how visibly broken an item is. I could justify covert for something technical or mechanical where it could be passed off as a temporary glitch that is working again but a shattered vase? Or a smashed telephone? That should be vulgar.

    I really don’t know what the game designers were thinking when they created some of these spells.

    But my biggest pet peeve about Mage the Awakening is that once mages get to a certain level of power, they’re better than all other supernatural creatures. There’s no balance between the various World of Darkness games in that respect. Heck, mages can CREATE spirits. That’s just wrong.

  4. I’d rather know what the game designers were smoking… and where I can get some for myself! 😉

    Mages may start out squishy, but they get incredibly powerful much faster than any of the other groups. Keeping up with them is a challenge!

  5. 1. I have no problem with this. In fact, I am adding this to my house rules.

    2. Paradox is RESISTANT, and therefore if you wind up taking lethal damage due to paradox and it knocks you out, you will bleed to death. There’d be no way to save the character. . . you’d have to make it unresistant lethal to be fair.

    3. If the bigger the dice pool = the more chance of paradox, you’re going to discourage mages from taking Rote Spells. There would be no point in getting the rote, because your chance of paradox would increase, not decrease. Unless you were specifically making rotes immune to this rule, which may then encourage mages to take rotes.

  6. I am a big fan of the RESOLVE+COMPOSURE roll. Seems like everyone else is too. That makes me smile.

    That’s a good point about not being able to save a character from lethal paradox if they are bleeding to death though. I mean, I want to kill you all – don’t get me wrong! What kind of GM what I be if I didn’t? But somehow… that does feel like cheating.

    How about Paradox as Resistant bashing that takes longer to heal? You could mark the health boxes with the following special icon representing the joyous feeling your GM got from hitting you with Paradox Damage:


    And I certainly don’t want to discourage buying rotes. I’m all for you spending XP on those!

  7. Ok second attempt at posting. I think res and comp to absorb paradox. For any that you fail, you CAN roll again to absorb as resist lethal. For any you still fail, you can rol a third time for resist aggravated. So, I agree with Caitlyn that it should give you a chance of dying. It adds more fear, which is fun,and makes the rewards sweeter, maybe more chances for the gnosis only xp thing, which would increase paradox pool in the future. So, to balance out the resilience of the wolves, the mages would wind up being more like glass canons that after a little while would fracture, splinter, crack and break over time with too many or to long of a fight. As for 1’s adding to paradox, if you do the above would not do this as it could potentially be devastating on a regular basis. I like making new characters, but not every week. Lol. So, no 1’s adding, but have the potential for lethal and maybe even aggravated.

  8. Mages as glass cannons… I’m liking this idea! I think that nicely reflects the inner struggle of trying to absorb paradox when you know it’s gonna hurt! And yes, I like Arcane XP potential because it means more Paradox dice in the future. This has merit!

    And yes, the making 1’s add to Paradox would up the ante too much if the damage is beefed up. That’s more of a “don’t absorb it as damage and let the hilarity ensue” kind of thing.

  9. Unless I’m turning a tree into a swarm of wasps, I don’t need to worry much about glass cannon issues. Those of you bending time & fate to your whims or creating fire tornados in suburban neighborhoods on sunny days might have more cause for concern. Mostly it would mean for me that your actions would make my healing of you less effective. Which would possibly lead me to start using vulgar magic and shapeshifting into a rabid wombat more often. 🙂

    • There’s a chance one of my Mages will start turning into a rabid wombat?! Squee!!

      This idea just keeps getting better. It’s bringing tears of joy to my eyes!

      • <-Harbinger of Chaos. And when I get more dots in matter I'm gonna start turning thrown rocks into angry koalas… disbelief be damned.

  10. I’ve said things along these lines for a little while. (To be fair, I have few spells that are vulgar, and most of them I cast just because it’s kind of awesome to make a tentacled monster carry you around.)
    I’d say resistant lethal would be reasonable if some non-magical first aid could keep the person from bleeding out. The resolve+composure roll seems fine too, though admittedly my character wouldn’t have much a problem with that roll.

  11. I like your idea, Dave. Maybe non-magical healing could be enough to sustain life but the mage would essentially be in a coma or close for a period of time.

    It makes sense that there should be a limit to the amount of power a human being can channel through their body without penalty. Small spells, routine spells, etc. would be fine but when you’re significantly warping reality — there should be penalties.

    The TV show The Vampire Diaries does that fairly well. Normal spells are fine but can eventually tire a witch. Kick up to a significant power level and the witch ends up with a bloody nose and is severely drained. When they try to channel major power, the witch potentially can burn out his or her body (the show uses the term “witch” correctly in that it’s not gender specific), which is a natural way of capping extremes — you can really do something outrageous if you want, but you might survive it, so make sure you mean it.

  12. I am completely in favor of allowing non-magical healing to prevent a Mage from bleeding out due to Paradox. After all, if you die i can’t continue to torture you. Am I right?

    Also, while it makes sense that magic can’t heal something caused by the universe’s refusal to accept your magic, it also makes sense that non-magic could prevent it from killing you, so I’m all in favor.

    I like what you’re saying here too, Beth. Paradox pools already take into account the Gnosis of the caster. Why not take into account the Arcana level of the spell? Forget all this “Vulgar”/”Covert” stuff – it’s magic and the universe should react based on the level of the magic, not how sneaky it is.

    Of course, I may be biased. 😉

  13. Adding a spell’s dots in Arcana would make sense. I’d do it on a minus one basis, though, so a 1 dot Arcana spell wouldn’t cause Paradox. Since most of those are detection and protection spells anyway, it wouldn’t hurt anything and would make sense.

    A 2-dot Arcana spell would have one Paradox die, 3 dots would be 2 Paradox dice, etc. In this case, I wouldn’t mind a magical implement or something to shave off one Paradox die because it would keep the relatively simple spells (2-3 dot Arcana’s) low on Paradox but wouldn’t offset the risks of high Arcana spells too much.

    Spells that require dots in multiple Arcanas would stack, of course. So that awesome, overly powerful spell that requires 4 dots of matter and 3 of mind would still be rolling 5 Paradox dice at the minimum (the -1 would only apply once if multiple Arcanas are involved because you’re stepping up the power and they’d still potentially get -1 for a magical implement).

    BTW, if you are using magical implements to offset anything and a mage is fighting a mage or someone aware of this rule, the NPC should actively be trying to destroy the other mage’s magical implement if they have a chance.

    I’d even consider stealing a page from Champions and if a magical implement is too hard to detect, it doesn’t help you as much.

    (In Champions you can use a focus to make powers attached to that focus cheaper but you get the best discount for foci that are obvious and can be taken away easily, like a magic wand as opposed to ones that are obvious but hard to take like armor. Ones that aren’t obvious and hard to remove, like the gem in Doctor Spectrum’s chest, do the least for you.)

  14. Oh, and destroying another mage’s magical implement while they’re using it should create a backlash on the mage who owns it.

  1. Pingback: Mage: The Awakening - Make Paradox Hurt - No Ordinary Obsession

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